Brought to book

Someone may have written a worse book than Glenn Hoddle's Diary but Harry Pearson won't believe it until he sees it

The Hoddle book. A betrayal of trust; a gross error of judgement; an action in which personal gain has been put ahead of the public interest. Yes, there’s no doubt about it, by charging £17.99 for 236 pages of this mind-numbing rubbish Andre Deutsch really have brought the English publishing game into disrepute.

Where to begin? The tedious golf games with Ray Clemence, perhaps, or the endless repetition of the words “positive” and “focused” or maybe the positive, focusing sound of M People’s Search for the Hero Inside Yourself as it echoes around the team coach. Oh, no, let’s start with the tortured prose style, shall we?

As a player Glenn Hoddle was hardly noted for bruising physicality, but when it comes to tackling the English language it’s a different matter. After a few paragraphs in his company our native tongue is carried off on a stretcher groaning and begging for mercy.

Hoddle is a football manager. No one expects him to be able to write like Flaubert or even Harry Harris. That is the point of having a ghost writer. The England boss’s spectral scribe is the FA’s Director of Public Affairs, David Davies, though reading sentences such as “We were ready for just about everything, even the slightly changed role from what we’d expected of Gianfranco Zola” it is hard to avoid concluding that the prolific Seventies playwright Ernest Wise was also involved.

Interviewed on Radio Five Live Hoddle outlined the reasons he had written My 1998 World Cup Story: “My main concern was to get a quality book out in the sense of what was running more from my mind and my reactions of situations through a World Cup and putting things down on record to a certain degree and having that memory and giving people a bit of an insight.” The best thing that can be said for David Davies is that he has captured the authentic voice of the England football manager.

Amidst the linguistic carnage it’s often hard to pick out meaning or significance. The book appears to have been written contemporaneously with events, but on odd occasions suddenly lurches into the past tense. Is this just another cock-up? Or does it mean that bits were inserted later with the benefit of hindsight to point up the England manager’s vision? It’s impossible to tell, but certainly there are moments in My 1998 World Cup Story in which there appears to be a sly method in the syntactical madness.

Here, for example, is Glenn Hoddle on the sending off of David Beckham: “We’d warned him at Le Tournoi a year ago about not getting involved with silly antics, but he obviously hadn’t learned… If he hadn’t got sent off we’d have had eleven men on the pitch and would have won the game – I was convinced of that. I also told him that I’d done my best to avoid putting a greater burden on his shoulders by naming scapegoats.” Except in a book, obviously.

Jack Charlton once summarized his doubts about Hoddle the player with the words “The lad lacks passion”. Maybe so. He certainly doesn’t lack self-belief, however. Doubts creep into My 1998 World Cup Story even less often than good music (Hoddle opts to tell the players he is dropping from the squad the bad news to the accompaniment of Kenny G. No wonder Gazza went berserk). The England manager justifies every decision with the forthrightness of someone  who has been totally vindicated by events; his only regret that he did not take faith-healer Eileen Drewery to France with the squad. Sadly, there is more conviction in his arguments than logic. For example, Hoddle talks about the “lack of focus” he had detected in David Beckham before the tournament began. He then uses the Man United player’s sending off in the Argentina match to justify his decision not to start with him against Tunisia or Romania. All of which leaves you wondering which dimwit it was who it was who picked this walk-ing liability to play in St Etienne.

Much of the “I told you so” element of the book (and it forms a considerable portion) is directed at “the media”. Hoddle finds many football writers’ grasp of the game laughable. And who is to say he is not correct in his judgement? There are, however, odd holes in his own knowledge.

Middlesbrough fans will doubtless be interested to learn, for instance, that Emerson’s many absences were partly explained by the fact that he was often away on international duty with Brazil.

Nor would Hoddle have made any money, as he seems to believe, by betting on Paraguay to beat Spain. Yet, though Hoddle resents media criticism of his methods, he feels no compunction about outlining the mistakes made by referees with whose decisions he disagrees. This is a prevailing vice amongst football managers, many of whom will happily expend thousands of words outlining the errors of match officials only to explode with rage if anyone has the temerity to question the wisdom of their team selection.

Hoddle is touchy about his beliefs, too. He feels people leap to judgement without considering the evidence. Whatever. There is a dividing line between faith and superstition and the England manager crosses it regularly. Hoddle believes in astrology, faith-healing, negative and positive vibrations, intuitive feelings and, apparently, that dreams may predict the future. He believes that Jesus “was a normal run-of-the-mill sort of guy who had a genuine gift, just  as Eileen [Drewery] has got”. (I am no theologian but my understanding was that Christ was the  son of God. Hardly normal, you would think, even in Essex.)

He also believes that if we had beaten Argentina we would have gone on to win the World Cup, doubtless brushing Holland, Brazil and France aside like the football weaklings they are. In the end, though, what he believes in this context is worthless. In spiritual matters faith may take precedence over facts, but when it comes to World Cups results alone matter. England played four games and lost two of them (Hoddle thinks we would have beaten Romania but for a couple of defensive errors. Ah, those defensive errors, if it wasn’t for them and the fact our opponents keep scoring more goals than us England have won every World Cup we’ve ever entered). Our record in the tournament was comparable with that of Paraguay or Chile, worse than that of Denmark. That is the truth. And no amount of Hoddle’s believing will alter it.

From WSC 140 October 1998. What was happening this month